Disney’s “Brave” represented a number of firsts for Pixar when the film was released back in the summer of 2012. It was the first time the studio had tackled fairy tale material, it was the first time a woman would be directing for them, and it was the first time that their film would feature a strong, central female protagonist that advances the story all on her own.

 

Set in Scotland, “Brave” follows Princess Merida, a girl who defies her parents and tradition when she refuses to be married off to the prince of another kingdom. She wants to be free to have her independence, and free to decide what her fate is going to be without her parents or some guy telling her what to do.

 

Her main opposition comes in her mother, Queen Elinor. The Queen is steadfast in her belief in tradition, and she refuses to let the feisty, free-spirited Merida be anything but a lady.

 

When Merida consults with a witch about her problem, there are sinister consequences that force the princess to reconcile with her mother in order to end the madness that is set to ruin both of their lives.

 

Mother-daughter relationships are hard to come by in cinema today, and the one presented in “Brave” is both credible and complex. You see both sides of the argument between these two women, and while Merida is ultimately our hero, she is an undeniably flawed character. Pixar, if nothing else, is great at creating films with unique, interesting, and fully-developed characters; in “Brave,” they do a great job of doing that in a genre that has been loaded with flat, cliched characters by other, lesser animation studios.

 

Visually, Brave is a marvel. It is perhaps the best looking Pixar film to date. The technology behind animation is improving at an exponential rate, and there are moments in “Brave” that are nearly photorealistic. Her hair, the misty Scottish forests, the sweeping shots over gorgeously rendered landscapes — it is all strikingly beautiful.

 

Story wise, though, “Brave” is a little disappointing. This is mostly because of Pixar’s pedigree as great storytellers. This is the studio that made “Toy Story,” “Ratatouille,” “WALL-E,” and “Up.” Those films alone are some of the best in the history of animation, so something even slightly inferior feels extremely weak in comparison. Therefore, when “Brave” begins to drag or when the conflict starts to lose interest, the effect on the audience is much worse than if this had been made by any other studio. Just don’t go in expecting Pixar’s best, and you should be fine.

 

The voice cast was solid. Kelly Macdonald does fine as the lead, and Emma Thompson did some particularly good work, as usual. Not the best voice work Pixar’s ever done, but far from the worst.

 

All in all, “Brave” was quite a fun ride. Incredible visuals should make up for whatever narrative glitches are present in the film. It is hard not to feel a little disappointed knowing how good Pixar can be at their best, but this is still better than the vast majority of other American studio animations.- 3/4

 

Have you seen “Brave?” What are your thoughts on the way a strong female protagonist advances the story all on her own?  Let’s talk in the comments, or you can find me on Twitter @TuckerPoikonen